Today was the inauguration of President Obama. I still can’t believe it. Now I can relax just a little. But in his speech he said “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America”. So do that I will and announce a project I’ve been working on for months:
I intend to start a college. I see a large population of people who are poorly served by the current model of higher education: people with meager financial means, veterans, artists, career changers, and other talented people who simply want to learn. I think these people would benefit from a program that seeks to help each student identify what he or she is passionate about — what they most want to accomplish in life — and helps them gain the skills they need in order to achieve this. So I have devised a curriculum, the Sphere Curriculum, that is intended to accomplish exactly that.
The curriculum of the College proceeds in three phases. In Phase One entitled “Self and Other”, students embark upon a journey to acquire a deeper understanding of self, and to develop their understanding of how differently people think: to discover what motivates the beliefs and actions of humanity. This is accomplished primarily through the reading, discussing and writing about great works of literature and philosophy and their relationship to both contemporary issues and the students’ own experiences. In this phase students will also seek to identify the direction of their future studies. Phase Two, “Tool Acquisition”, involves the acquisition of interdisciplinary knowledge and skills that support the student’s goals for having a positive effect on the world. In phase Three, “Action”, students will draw upon their continually-developing knowledge to produce a positive effect in the world. Each phase is cumulative; moving to a new phase requires that the previous phase has become second-nature, and has become incorporated into the individual’s character.
Some possible mechanisms for achieving the goals of the College include:
- To remove as many obstacles to education as possible, including financial and emotional obstacles
- To fully engage students in their education by helping them to identify what they believe is most important for them to accomplish toward having a positive effect on the world, identifying the skills and activities that will help them achieve this effect, and dynamically constructing an interdisciplinary curriculum that supports their goals
- To ensure that graduates comprehend the connected nature of interdisciplinary knowledge
- To keep program costs low by utilizing existing resources (e.g., by renting/leasing/buying space) in the community while contributing to the local economy
- To merge multiple educational philosophies, including Progressive Education (“learning by doing”), Waldorf-Steiner Education (“learning is creative and interdisciplinary”) and Constructionist Learning (“learning by actively constructing mental models and theories”)
- To actively involve students in the fundamental operations of the educational program itself
- To ensure that students take responsibility for their own education and actively contribute to the education of their peers
- To ensure that students learn in the mode that is most effective for them, both individually and collectively
- To identify and produce pragmatic solutions for the problems of humanity
- To create a structure that can be replicated by other communities that may wish to start such a program, while ensuring integrity of the quality of the program
Clearly, this is an ambitious plan. Some people rightly wonder how I plan to implement such a plan. They wonder what the business model is. Well, it is this: I plan to raise money via donations—online and otherwise. A website is in the works where, once I achieve federal tax-exempt status I will be able to accept donations. I think there are plenty of people out there who will recognize the societal benefits of such a program and who will want to ensure that this thing happens. I will be finding out for sure in the coming months.
As soon as possible I plan to hire someone to handle some details — someone to look into things like achieving non-profit (501(c)3) status, to schedule classes (there are already a few students signed up and ready to start!) and Advisory Group meetings. After I see how much money is available, I will hire (I love that word, don’t you?) more people to help implement the vision.
Feel free to point anyone that you think would be intrigued by this—and perhaps may even be a part of potentially making history—to this blog. In the words of President Obama (I still can’t get over that): “…we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task”. So together, let’s find out what can be accomplished through education.
I Wish You All the Best,
Richard Liston, Founder and President